Traders besiege towaway police
Kshiti beats Asim in road race
1.7 lakh pilgrims at Sagar mela
Lynch villages fume at cops
Jewellery dacoit held in Digha
Law student hurt in roof collapse
Mother shelter for shunned AIDS patient
NDA seeks broad poll alliance
KYKL claims hand in Loktak killing
Patna HC stays demolition

Calcutta, Jan 14 
Mullickbazar motor parts dealers clashed with the police on Friday morning, heckling officers and blocking AJC Bose Road for more than two hours in protest against a drive to tow away illegally parked vehicles.

Peak-hour traffic was thrown out of gear in Sealdah, Moulali, Park Street, Theatre Road and surrounding areas because of the blockade.

A group of youth surrounded the officers and prevented them from taking the vehicles away. The traders gesticulated wildly and heckled policemen when they tried to tow the vehicles away. Witnesses said some even hurled stones at the policemen.

The incident occurred at 11 am. A few police officers with couple of tow-away vans arrived to seize vehicles parked in a no-parking zone.

The motor parts dealers rushed to the area to prevent the police from taking away their vehicles.

The heavily outnumbered police team initially had to give way. They clearly did not anticipate a violent reaction from the traders.

There were 40 vehicles parked one either side of the AJC Bose Road from Nonapukur tram depot till the Park street intersection.

The crowd swelled by the minute. Police officers asked for reinforcements through the wireless even as the traders squatted on the road.

The deputy commissioner of police, traffic, K. Harirajan, along with a huge police force rushed to the spot. He was greeted with a volley of abuse.

Police officers threw a cordon around Harirajan, who was recently assaulted by employees of Bata near the Grand Hotel arcade when he pulled up a private vehicle for illegal parking.

Officers urged the traders to lift their blockade but they refused to take heed.

“We have been parking vehicles on either side of the road for ages. Why this sudden drive today?’’ asked trader Fathechand Agarwal.

Police officers said the traders had taken over three lanes of the carriageway. “The five-lane road has been reduced to two because of encroachment,’’ Harirajan said.

He blamed the traders for accidents. “The volume of traffic is very high on this stretch and vehicles find it difficult to manoeuvre through the two lanes. Moreover, the area is densely populated with people spilling over on the street and running from one side of the road to another wherever they feel like,’’ Harirajan added.

Police officers awaited instruction from Lalbazar headquarters. Around 12.45 pm, police gave an ultimatum to the demonstrators: lift the blockade within 15 minutes or “face the consequence’.’

The traders went into the huddle and decided to clear the road. “We will petition the chief minister against such injustice,’’ one trader promised.

The situation limped back to normal in another half an hour. Harirajan said two dozen vehicle owners were prosecuted for illegal parking.

Touts held: Vigilance wing of Railways has detained 1004 touts from different parts of the city last year, according to a press release issued on Friday.    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
Public Works Department (PWD) minister Kshiti Goswami has won the final round of his power tussle with finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

The state government is ready to issue a fresh order restoring Goswami’s authority over construction and maintenance of roads, nullifying Dasgupta’s earlier directive.

The finance minister had, in December, deemed that road construction projects will henceforth be implemented by zilla parishads and PWD engineers will have to work under the zilla parishads and the district administration.

An angry Goswami took the issue to chief minister Jyoti Basu, complaining that the move was aimed at crippling his department in the name of power decentralisation. PWD engineers, too, had resented the move and launched an agitation.

Basu had stepped in to resolve the matter. A cabinet sub-committee was formed to frame the guidelines of power decentralisation.

The scales had tilted towards Goswami once deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya sided with him at the last meeting of the sub-committee.

Later, the task of drawing up the fresh guidelines was entrusted to a secretary-level committee headed by chief secretary Manish Gupta.

The salient features of the fresh draft guidelines, duly signed by Goswami, Dasgupta, Gupta and panchayat minister Suryakant Mishra, are:

PWD will invite and scrutinise tenders, but representatives of the zilla parishads will be included in the tender committees.

A monitoring committee, comprising PWD officers and engineers, will be formed to expedite work.

Superintending engineers of the PWD will act as technical advisers to the zilla parishads

PWD tenders will be invited in the name of sabhadhipatis who will make payments to the contractors after receiving necessary clearance from the PWD.

This will allow the PWD engineers to function just as they did earlier. PWD engineers claimed that construction of highways and bridges is “highly technical” and the zilla parishads lack both “infrastructure and technical manpower” to take on such projects.

A senior PWD officer pointed out that funds allotted to four districts, Malda, Nadia, Murshidabad and Hooghly, for road construction have been returned as the zilla parishads failed to undertake the work.    

Sagar Island, Jan 14 
About 170,000 pilgrims had taken the holy bath here till Friday night even as one person died and 37 criminals were arrested.

“ The bath will continue upto 11 am on Saturday and more than two lakh pilgrims are expected,” said R.K.Vats, district magistrate, South 24 Parganas.

Ram Deo Chowdhury, a member of Bharat Relief camp , died after a cardiac arrest. Thirty seven criminals, including a sadhu, have been arrested and Rs 16,000 recovered. A sadhu was charged with stealing Rs 400.

Four children, who fell off a steamer at Lot No 8 on Thursday night, have been rescued by six civil defence employees. Civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee has said the six would be recommended for the Rashtrapati Award.

This time the government is worried about pollution during the mela period (January 10 to 16) as lakhs of people gather in an area of only five square km.

Prabir Chandra Sinha , executive engineer of Public Health Engineering (PHE) said: “We are worried about pollution hazards and sanitation. Tonnes of plastic bags and other garbage clog the drainage system.”

Khokon majhi of Sagar Island panchayat samity said the problem continues for several months. The whole area remains filled up with garbage causing serious health hazards.”

This is the first time cars have not been allowed into the mela area. This has caused much resentment among VIPs, especially ministers. PK Dutta ,Superintendent Engineer, PHE said: “Cars can damage pipelines which are one-and-a-half-feet below the sand.”    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
More than 24 hours after the public lynching in Sonarpur, the area still wears an angry look.

The villagers of Bangalpara, Bagherkhol, Mazherpara, Khanpara, Keyabagan, Sreepur in Bonhooghly are furious with the authorities for not taking any action against the criminals and arresting 10 people involved in the killing of the “extortionists”.

“We wanted to kill each one of them. Sheikh Vinod and his men have been extorting money from traders and even from landless labourers for the past year,’’ said Abdul Matin of Khanpara village.

The villagers, armed with sticks and iron rods, have been searching Bonhooghly for the gang members who escaped the mob on Thursday.

“We have no faith in the police. They are on the payroll of the criminals. Otherwise, how could so many miscreants take shelter in three villages of the area for such a long time?’’ said Mukunda Naskar of Nutunhat.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, while stating that the government will enquire into the villagers’ grievances against the police, has stressed that he does not support people taking the law into their own hands.

A massive police force has deployed in different pockets of the area. The additional superintendent of police, industrial, S. N. Gupta, and other senior officers supervised police action against the villagers held responsible for lynching.

Hundreds of villagers chased a gang of 21 miscreants on Thursday afternoon after they tried to rob two villagers. Ten criminals were caught and beaten to death. Sheikh Vinod, Asgar Ali and a few others managed to escape in an autorickshaw.

For the villagers of Nutunhat, the mob fury witnessed on Thursday criminals was the culmination of “months of frustration and fear” and “police inaction”.

“The police knew Vinod’s hideouts. The relatives of the women who were lynched for sheltering the criminals were close to a few officers of the Sonarpur police station,’’ alleged Sanatan Das of Dakshinpara.

“We did what police failed to do. Why are they taking action against us? Instead, they should do something to track down and arrest the criminals,’’ concluded a villager.    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
The detective department arrested four persons on Friday, and solved the mystery of a dacoity at the TC Auddy jewellery shop in September, 1998.

According to deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, the leader of the gang, Sujoy Banerjee, had invested some of the loot money in building a hotel in Digha.

After recovering ornaments marked TC Auddy from his Digha residence, the police arrested Banerjee and his driver Sumit Maity. The other two, Kalachand Mondal and Swapan Islam, were rounded up from Titagarh, North 24-Parganans.

Sources revealed that the police had acted on a tip-off about a young man frequenting a particular woman in a red light area of the city and lavishing her with jewellery. The sleuths found out that the ornaments bore marks of TC Auddy. The man turned out to be Banerjee, whose Digha address was handed over by the woman.

Narayan Ghosh said Banerjee and his associates had distributed the loot — 10 kilograms of ornaments and Rs 3 lakh in cash — amongst themselves and gone their separate ways.    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
A student of Calcutta University’s law department, Haimanti Mukherjee, was seriously injured when a portion of a ceiling collapsed at the college building on Hazra Road, in south Calcutta, on Friday.

She was first rushed to Ramakrishna Seva Pratisthan, from where she was shifted to B. R, Singh Hospital in the evening.

Angry law students held demonstrations and gheraoed officials, demanding immediate removal of the caretaker of the campus. They also demanded that renovation work on the building begin from Saturday itself.

D P Dey, the university’s law secretary, admitted that the building housing the law college was in “bad shape”. He assured the students that work on the building would begin from Saturday.

The `accident’ occurred at around noon when Haimanti and some of her classmates were seated on a bench at one corner of the corridor on the ground floor of the law college building.

“A huge chunk of plaster suddenly fell on her, just missing her head. She fell down and began writhing with pain on the floor,” said Mohammadi Tarannum, a final-year student and general secretary of the SFI-led students’ union of the college.

This comes barely 72 hours after the university syndicate, its highest policy- making body, had decided to exonerate the university’s engineer who had been suspended in June last year for “dereliction of duty” in connection with the death of a zoology department scholar in a similar accident. Nabakumar Hudati had died on campus after a pipe fell on him in June 1999.

Students said that since Hudati’s death, they had been urging the authorities to repair the college building. But no action had been taken. “Cracks have developed in almost every classroom. None of the toilets can be used. The water reservoirs are broken. There is no drinking water in a building where several thousand students attend classes ,” they pointed out.

Rjiblochan Chakraborty, a member of the students’ union, said that this time they would continue their movement “till all the demands are met by the college authorities”.    

Calcutta, Jan 14 
Thrown out by her in-laws, rejected by her parents and refused admission by Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, Ruma Chatterjee (name changed) has finally found love and care at Shanti Dan, one of the many homes Mother Teresa has left behind.

Ruma has AIDS. Just 23 years old, she lived with and was under the care of a health worker from Gayespur near Kalyani ever since her husband Tarak died of the same illness in July last year.

With his death, both Ruma’s in-laws and parents began ostracising her, presuming that she too was infected. A test at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine in November confirmed this. “I brought her to my home when I saw the plight she was in,” said Kalyani Gayen, the health worker. And, with periodic medical advice from Agni Bhattacharya, health officer of Gayespur municipality, all went well.

Till Ruma started having bouts of fever and uneasy breathing. Sensing that AIDS-related complications were setting in, Bhattacharya and Gayen brought her in an ambulance to Medical College on December 31 evening. “She had high temperature,” Bhattacharya recalled.

When Ruma was taken to the emergency wing, the doctor on duty said she was alright. Hospital superintendent S. Sinha’s advice, “Admit if bed vacant,” did not help. The three women returned to Gayespur, a two-and-a-half hour’s drive from Calcutta.

Asked to visit the hospital’s outdoor department the following Tuesday, Ruma was again brought to Calcutta. This time, the state physician responsible for AIDS management, Kanai Banerjee, examined her. He was told of her situation by the health worker, who had accompanied her from Gayespur. “But her case was dismissed, saying that she did not require admission. She was described as afebrile, despite having a fever,” Kalyani said. “We were told that admissions to the Ezra ward had closed.”

The doctors took away her blood report and asked Ruma to come to the outdoor every Tuesday. They advised a chest x-ray and a haemogram (complete blood profile). “We got the tests done,” Bhattacharya said. The x-ray revealed that she had pleural effusion, the first stage of TB.

“With this development, Ruma now requires continuous medical supervision. Though I have become very attached to her, I cannot provide her this. I will have to go out on my own work. Suppose something happens...” Kalyani pointed out.

With the help of Shanko Sen, a mime artist who spreads AIDS awareness, a city-based voluntary organisation was contacted. Ruma finally found shelter at Shanti Dan on Thursday.

The municipal health officer and Sen have raised several points.“We received very little cooperation from government hospitals. With AIDS cases on the rise, there will be more patients like Ruma who do not receive care at home because of ostracisation,” Bhattacharya said.

“Neither will they be admitted at hospitals. The private ones will refuse and the government hospitals will either say there are no beds or that the patient’s condition does not require admission.” Being a government doctor, her words had weight.

The superintendent of Medical College said the hospital was ready to take in any AIDS patient provided they required admission. “Hospitals are not midway homes. It is up to the social welfare department to do something,” he added.

“Until there is more awareness among the public about how the AIDS virus spreads, people will continue to treat those affected like the way Ruma was treated,” Sen said.    

Imphal, Jan. 14 
The National Democratic Alliance constituents may succeed in forging a broad alliance for the Manipur Assembly elections out of compulsion.

With five Opposition parties — the Congress, the Manipur People’s Party, the CPI, the CPM and the Janata Dal (Secular) — forming the Secular Democratic Front (SDF), there is no option left for the NDA constituents despite differences on seat adjustment.

Though the state unit of the BJP was against teaming up with the ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), central BJP leaders insisted on the NDA’s revival. The alliance had fought the last Lok Sabha elections in the state as one, but differences between the BJP and the MSCP had rendered it non-functional. The MSCP’s big-brother attitude was cited to be the main reason behind the difference. BJP national secretary in-charge of the Northeastern states, P.B. Archarya, is here trying to strike a deal with other partners like the MSCP and the Samata Party.

The MSCP has put forward a proposal for having a “friendly contest” among the NDA constituents, while working out a common minimum programme to keep the alliance alive. But, the BJP and the Samata Party are insisting on fielding common candidates in many constituencies.

The MSCP’s problem is accommodating all its 38 sitting MLAs whose candidature it has already finalised.

The problem between the NDA constituents cropped up when three MSCP legislators were pitted against state BJP president H. Bhubon Singh, former chief minister R.K. Dorendra Singh of the BJP and Samata Party president Basanta Kumar Wangkhem. Sources said the BJP and the Samata Party insisted that the MSCP sacrifice the seats.

The NDA’s new partner, the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM) — which is also a partner of the W. Nipamacha Singh-led coalition ministry, has endorsed the MSCP’s theory of friendly contest while keeping the NDA alive. FPM president and forest minister Gangmumei Kamei told The Telegraph that despite its differences, the NDA will fight the Assembly elections as an unit.

A state BJP leader today said the alliance was inevitable. He said the NDA may field common candidates in at least five of the 60 seats to make the alliance work. A clear picture would surface by tomorrow, he added.

Archarya told newsmen that Union minister of state for youth affairs, culture and sports Thounoujam Chaoba Singh should quit if the NDA failed to take off due to the MSCP’s stand. He said the MSCP, one of whose MP was a Union minister, should sacrifice some seats for its allies.

Sources said state BJP leaders had urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to drop Chaoba Singh from his ministry if the NDA failed to materialise in the state. Chaoba Singh, who is in New Delhi to work out an amicable formula, is expected to be here tomorrow.

Sources said while Chaoba Singh was ready to sacrifice the seats, Nipamacha Singh and his deputy L. Chandramani Singh were against sacrificing MSCP’s interests.

Observers feel the NDA will have to materialise if the constituents want to prevent the SDF from having an easy run.    

Imphal, Jan. 14 
The authorities of the Loktak hydroelectric project have agreed to resume work following an assurance by the Manipur government to provide adequate security in the project area.

State power minister Govindas Konthoujam said additional CRPF companies have been deployed in the project area at Ningthoukhong and Kom Keirap after project chief engineer Subhash Chandra Sher was gunned down by militants on Wednesday.

The banned Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) has claimed responsibility for killing the chief engineer. In a statement released here, the KYKL said Sher was “punished” for stubbornly refusing to pay them “tax”. The outfit has warned other government officials as well.

Loktak power project officials refused to disclose how much money the KYKL had demanded from the chief engineer. Sher’s predecessor, R.P. Sehgal, had also been attacked by militants in Bishenpur. But he had survived as he had been travelling in a bullet-proof car, official sources said.

Sher’s murder has shocked the National Hydel Power Corporation (NHPC), which is running the Loktak project. It had threatened to pull out all its employees from different power projects in the Northeast. Three high-level NHPC teams headed by director (personnel) A.I. Buneet, executive director (projects) A.K. Gangopadhyay and security advisor Alloor had rushed to Imphal yesterday to take stock of the situation.

The NHPC team today held a marathon meeting with state government officials led by state chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh. Senior police, CRPF and BSF officials also attended the meeting.

The power minister, who took part in the meeting, said the NHPC officials agreed to resume work only after the chief minister assured them of foolproof security. The state government has also agreed to guard residential quarters of the families of the project officials. The NHPC team was pacified by these assurances, official sources added.

Official sources said the militants were able to sneak into the project area as the Army had been pulled out of the state for the Kargil operations. Earlier an Army brigade had been posted at the project area. An Assam Rifles battalion, which was moved in after the Army’s departure, was also pulled out recently from the area for counter-insurgency operations. Assam Rifles officials said no troops have been posted in the area since last month.

Three CRPF companies were posted at the project area but this was not enough. An additional CRPF company was rushed to the area yesterday. The state power minister said another CRPF company will be deployed there soon. Chief minister Nipamacha Singh has strongly condemned Sher’s killing. The state government has urged the Union home ministry to raise a separate security force for guarding the Loktak project. Official sources said the Union home ministry has given a green signal to the state’s proposal.    

Ranchi, Jan. 14 
The Ranchi bench of the Patna High Court today stayed the demolition of the prestigious GEL Church shopping complex on the Main Road. The order had earlier been issued by the Ranchi Regional Development Authority (RRDA). The court has asked the RRDA to file rejoinders by January 21.

Tension had been running high at Ranchi after the RRDA, the regulatory body for development activities, passed an order for demolition of the illegally-constructed GEL complex on December 15.

The GEL Church, in separate memorandums to the Union home minister as well as the AICC president, alleged that they had been singled out by the RRDA vice-chairman after they had refused to accede to his wishes.

Even former MPs Tariq Anwar and Indranath Bhagat along with a number of Congress MLAs, including Keshav Mahato Kamlesh, Bhukhla Bhagat, Kalicharan Mahato and others petitioned the Prime Minister and the Union home minister seeking their intervention in the matter. They also sought a CBI probe into the “corrupt practises” of RRDA vice-chairman Alok Goel.

GEL Church authorities had earlier said that as a mark of protest, hundreds of Christians would assemble before the church complex tomorrow, the day fixed for demolition by the RRDA and “pray to the Almighty to cleanse dirty souls.” However, following the stay order, tomorrow’s prayer assembly has been put off, Church authorities said.

Justice M. Y. Eqbal, after hearing the petition of the church ordered the RRDA to file their rejoinders latest by January 21. The petitioners had prayed that since the master plan for Ranchi had become invalid, the demolition order be stayed till a new plan is drawn up.    


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